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On recent walks and events it’s been brought to my attention that I often find myself lost. Now, you might think that this is a bad thing, but it’s not always.

Maybe it’s not the best practice when leading a group walk to not know where you are going; with all the threats of danger and accidents and savagely wild hedgehogs that are just longing to get a grip on your throat the moment you stumble! (Ok… I admit it,  the part about savage hedgehogs is a slight fabrication on my part… I felt an urge to make British wildlife sound as fearsome as that in lands such as Australia. In reality, it’s much cudlier.)

Certainly when leading a walk as part of my job, or for a session I’m leading with any pretension of professionalism, the route is always walked in advance, risk assessments done and dangers minimised where possible.
For most Witchish Walks, I’ve visited the site before or at the very least taken a look on Google Maps to make sure that there is actually a route that can be taken (rather than a hop, skip and a jump in to oblivion with people following me).

In this post, though, I want to defend the art of getting lost.

‘Art?,’ I hear you say.

Art indeed. In today’s world there are many ways to not be lost at all, unless it’s in the time stealing dimensions of social media.
Many people have a miniature computer in their pocket that can connect to satellites, and guide an intrepid explorer right to an ancient site… all while taking photographs and chatting to a friend on the other side of the world.
If not that then maps are at hand, or the ever present sound of traffic and sights of urban sprawl eating in to the countryside. You’re not truly lost if you can find out where you are… bu you could still be lost enough.

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It’s my firm belief (or pleasant fantasy at least), that there are invisible and  hidden doorways in to other realms that can be only be accessed by getting thoroughly unsure of your bearings.
In a city these doorways might be side streets that you find as you take a failed attempt at a shortcut. A shortcut that opens your eyes to a fancy bistro and a beautiful person’s smile, or an intriguing looking shop with the heavy smell of exotic incense floating though it’s open doors. Perhaps you spy, as you walk, an open green space filled with sumptuously green grass, stately trees and colourful flowerbeds. A space that shouldn’t be there, smack bang in the middle of the city.

Sometimes we are too busy rushing to be seduced in to experiencing the wonders of these stores, spaces and the charming smile of the dark haired stranger whose eyes spark with a hunger, The one who sits alone at the Bistro table seemingly waiting for you to join them.
Sometimes we miss out on opportunities that can flavour our lives forever more.

‘Why do we miss out on them?,’ I hear you ask intrigued.

We miss out on them because these little pockets of wonder can never be found again. No matter how many times you try to find the short cut and it’s shops, no matter how many times you look at where you traversed on the map, often there is no sign of a heavenly park. Or no sign of the Bistro or beguiling shop.

And then we are left longing. Wondering if we imagined it after all? Wondering whether or not we wasted a world of riches in our haste to find our way to a destination?

Sometimes we’ll catch the scent of heavy, exotic incense  on the breeze as we near the place that we cannot find again…. and we almost mourn that which we could’ve known more sensually.

Now, I’m the first to admit that my sense of direction isn’t always the best. I navigate mostly by trees and memories of foraged foods. Yet there are some places that seem to make no sense to me at all. Places like Rivington Terraced Gardens, near Chorley, which has many routes up and down and which I always think I’m somewhere else when I’m on a connecting path.
Rivington leads me astray. It’s not quite pixie led, but it’s a dreamscape to my mind which scatters my sense of direction to the wind like loosened feathers knocked free as a hawk snatches a songbird from flight .

Rivington is part of the moorland upon which lies many ancient remains. Up on those moorlands I’ve found myself more than a bit lost before, but because of my being lost I’ve discovered things that would’ve been truly hidden from me had I gone another way.

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Sometimes these lost spaces yield up a treasure that I’ve been searching for – a sheep skull here, a carved rock there, a stone circle or a gargantuan tree.

I learned many years ago to allow myself to get lost; to find the spaces that sit between the known and unknown… and to explore them fervently.

An example: Borsdane woods is a long scar of a semi natural ancient woodland. If one enters through the Tunnel Entrance found at the top of Hindley, and alongside the Graveyard, then the woods extend in front of you and to the left a little as well.
One of my first solo trips to Borsdane woods saw me scrambling along a muddy track in the late winter mists.  I went perhaps 500 metres in to he woods, crossed over the small brook and turned back on myself for at least a mile.

That mile heading back toward the tunnel, but on the far side of the stream should have taken me over a railway line and through fencing and brought me out further than the farthest boundary of the grave yard.

Instead, I found myself stood in a wide open woodland staring at the largest tree I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. An ancient looking beech with a trunk that could swallow a small cottage.

The mist was thick, the pull towards the leafless tree strong and centuries of beech mast and leaves crumpling and crunching under foot.

Now, this happened ten years ago – I had neither a camera nor a phone frequently on my person back then, so I have no pictures of this beautiful tree. I know I could retrace every step… if only the path was there again for me to find.

I spent plenty of time with that tree, as druids do. I walked back out the same way I had come in.  It was when I reached the tunnels again that I realised something wasn’t quite right about my experience. There is no section of woodland where I walked that day. There is no behemoth beech tree there. There has been no way back either.

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Nowadays I put a map marker via Google Maps when I find somewhere worth returning to.  There have been times when I have returned to the very spot, only to find it far from how it was last experienced, mind you.

In a less ethereal manner, the simple act of being lost means you open your eyes wider, you listen more intently and you find interesting stuff that would’ve never even become a memory for you had you not found yourself in a quandary.

By straying off the beaten path, by letting yourself get a little lost there is so much to discover.

As a second example, today, I went for a short walk, looking to take a few pictures for this blog post. I strayed of the beaten track and was rewarded with an odd find in Wigan. A terrapin (?) shell amidst the fallen leaves.

Probably the final remains of someone’s pet which perished after being released in to the water at Low Hall Nature reserve …. but an interesting curio for me now.

So… if you go down to the woods to day, or over the moor, or tread a valley path … take a few extra provisions, put away the phone and GPS until you need it. Give yourself an extra hour or two…. and let yourself get lost.

Or maybe you are taking a shortcut or exploring a town or city… why not see what you can stumble upon and embrace it if it’s a soon to be lost treasure?

We can accrue much in this life, but one experience can be more valuable than millions in the bank or a new and fashionable bathroom suite.

Or maybe, you’ll find yourself lost in a conversation; maybe you’ll take a different meaning than was meant and maybe that will open up a new thought, a new possibility and from that moment of being lost you might discover the world as an oyster at your fingertips. Either that or you might find yourself in an argument.

There’s an art to getting lost. There’s an art to working with your own vulnerability and find much more than you sought.

So take the rough and narrow path, follow your nose and strike out towards the thing that caught your eye… go where you do not know.

However you do it. Wherever you do it. Whoever you do it with…. Please GET LOST! 🙂

 

 


In my last In SpirallingLeaf’s Grove  podcast I covered the Plum, Gage, Damson and Bullace  and in doing so referenced  one of their close relative, the Almond. 

This passing comment reminded me of the absolute  wealth of lore and fascinating  facts that Almond hides in plain sight, just inside it’s  woody little shell.  

Yet despite this depth of  lore, I have to admit that I don’t  know  Prunis dulcis as a physical  entity  very well at all. You see, it’s  not a common tree in the UK,  let alone in the soggy lands of the Northwest of  England! 

It’s  a tree with roots in the middle east, both literally  and historically.  

It likes hot lands, sun drenched and dry aired; lands like California, with little frost. Those lands are hard to find in my neck of the woods!

So, I looked at my diary and knew I wouldn’t  be  able  to  get a lot of time researching  for a few weeks… as such, I promised myself, if I could find  an almond tree, then I’d  do the podcast about it for definite.

I’ve  spent two weeks sending emails to botanical gardens and estates near where I’ve  been working (most of Merseyside  and Lancashire)… but to no avail.

I’ve  asked in plant and Permaculture based groups on Facebook. I even bothered Mersey Bio bank via my work twitter account…. also to no avail. 

Well. … Mersey Bio bank  sent me some great information  about a tree recorded in 2007 in an area of waste land in St Helens! Result! Or so I thought. I knew the patch of  land it would be on if I could find it…. but it’s  either well hidden… or dead. Likely  the latter, I fear. 

As mentioned  above,  almonds aren’t  native and certainly  aren’t  as vigorous  as the plethora of climatically adapted trees that have put on a lot of growth over ten years on that patch. The area of land where it should have stood was the remnants  of an old glass factory. Presumably  the tree had either been planted as part  an old ornamental driveway to the office area, or had sprung forth from a nut discarded by a worker. Either way I couldn’t  find  it.


What I did find was a wealth of apples,  cherries, plums, viburnums, spindles and poplar among other trees. A few surprises turned up as well, like the happily naturalised sweet peas  and a mass of human detritus  with the metal stripped out of it by local reprobates.

As should be  expected, the location of each fruit tree is now in my memory  for later use. Yet ,  without  the  Almond  of my desire I headed back to the car and homeward.

Oddly,  I took a wrong turn at a junction  I know well. Shucks! Yet, no bother as I knew I could turn left and cut through  the  top of Ashton  to rejoin through main road towards home.

Onwards I trundled, when suddenly  I spotted a tree…. and then another…. little, scabby trees next to larger cherry  blossom trees planted on roadside verges. Trees that screamed ALMOND! to my subconscious  mind.

The car almost parked itself as I flew out to double check. Low and behold, I had found almond trees on grass verges, planted by the council, less than three miles from home, on a road I had traveled many times to bypass traffic in the past.

I’ll  visit these trees a few more times over the coming weeks. Hopefully  I’ll  get  to know them in the process,  as well as likely worrying  the locals with my presence.

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I’ve a confession to make – I’ve been a lax blogger. Looking back through my photographs I realise that I haven’t told you about so many thing and places.

I’m going to remedy that – for the next while expect a daily(ish) blog post as I unload memories and thoughts on to the digital platform in front of you.

We’ll start with a wonderful place Ffynnon Fair ( https://m.facebook.com/FfynnonFair/). This is a delightful reconstructed and converted Cow shed in the small village of Eglwyswrw, near Ceredigion in the South West of Wales. Owned and run as a holiday space by Wendy and John this is a luxury modern  building on the inside and full of rustic charm on the out. Ideal for a couple’s getaway in Pembrokeshire.

As awesome as the building is, it’s the Welsh cake (Bara Brith), the warmth of Wendy and John’s personalities and the waggly tail of Molly, the softest dog ever, that make the place so special… that and it’s set in a gorgeous valley garden with a stream running through the bottom. Privacy or friendship, a hard choice to make sometimes, but for all the right reasons.

Right that’s my recommendation done. Having arrived there in November 2015 (we’ve been back since) I was amazed at the prevalence of ancient sites and old culture . With Wendy as our guide we took in the sights, making the most of her deep knowledge of the area. Some of which I’ll cover over the next few days, much of which you’ll have to go there yourself to get the real experience!

Today though is about paying a little homage to the area around the village. Future posts will see us taking a look at Castell Heneleys, a neolithic centre full of interesting delights; the source of the Bluestones for Stonehenge and more.

Today though I wanted to talk about Pentre Ifan.

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This is a gorgeous tomb with ample height to stand in (and I’m pretty tall); the huge cap stone full of texture and touchable from underneath. Heavy stones reaching to the sky around it only start to pull in the presence of the place.

To find the monument you must journey through narrow roads with high green banks raised either side of the track way and corners that could hide many cars. Miraculously though, they rarely do… the roads are quiet and  although you’ve been following the small and insistent signs, you start to feel as though you are about to slip in to the Otherworld… that you are being misled by wicked Welsh faeries….  those signs seem to be a bit to far apart… and then you see another one! Phew!

You find yourself taking a few more corners before pulling up alongside a a tall hedge and heading through the gate to the baleful sounds of disturbed sheep… who seem to be the guardians of pretty much all  antiquity these days. As you walk along the track, feeling their eyes on you, your eyes alight on the first of the stones. Walking in there are a few large boulders, that must have stood upright, or on egde at one point, laying recumbent and half buried. And then you seen the rest of the structure.
In times gone past it was likely  covered in soil, at least part way and the space between the three uprights which hold the cap would have been a tighter squeeze as some of the now sleeping stones would have been placed so as to seal off the space. In here, the dead would have stayed until their flesh went away in to the bellies of Earthly denizens. The bones likely gathered for use in Ancestral work after a time.

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Don’t worry, nothing that wouldn’t biodegrade was left after this little rite, and certainly wasn’t left among the stones.

Pentre Ifan has a peaceful energy about it, far from the macabre atmosphere that might be expected. When you sit and tune in a little, there’s a deep strength there and a sensation that the standing stones reach down right to the Earth’s core, and can pull potency up from there still. A place that can invigorate the living today and still the mind at the same time.

A place bedded in a magical landscape, with beautiful sun rises in the area and the bluestone outcrops of the Preselli hills, surrounded with wild horses in the near distance, not to mention Tycanol woods as an ever present leafy entity a stone’s  throw away.

 

 

What’s more, if visited at dawn or dusk, the place tingles with yet more energy, and it’s not from the sheep. One frozen winter visit, as night drew in, I decided to head back to the car, taking a few more photographs on the way. The Cap stone seems to be almost lifting off, ready to float in this one, and with the magic of the place I could believe that it does whenever it’s not observed!

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A couple of days ago I headed out from the office building, across the narrow car park and through the metal gates in to the Community garden in which I lead volunteers in the act of encouraging horticultural delicacies to sprout from the ground. The garden is replete with raised beds and growing things, there’s a wispy attempt at a pergola with seating beneath and it’s here that I perch. Around the oasis is the occasional rumble of an engine, slamming of a door and patter of voices. Every few minutes sirens sing in the distance and people shout at their kids while dogs bark with vigour in the not so distant garden and homes which over look the Community garden.

Here I planned to have a few moments of relatively peaceful meditation in my dinner break before heading back behind the keyboard (this day was a day heavy in computer usage). As such I sat and, after a moment of relaxing my body, I began to practice a breathing technique, my awareness at the point where the air flow impacts the nostril and my breath soothing and elongating as my awareness drew deeper in.

I shifted my awareness to my energetic body and slipped comfortably in to the liminal space inhabited by that which  which is not wholly physical yet not quite just energetic – the border of that which is ‘other’, yet still in the realms of the understandable.

After sitting with as still a mind as possible, all thoughts recognised but not responded to, I move to check on the condition of my body and energy levels – I’m a bit creaky it seems… and here and there my body is working with a futile fury to repair itself – I’ve kept using the same muscles and joints again and again while working on houses, gardens and projects. My hands in particular are feeling rough, my joints achey – I’m only 29 but I’ve used them very well already.

While I’m pondering this, I become aware of a change in the energy around me; looking up from introspection to see that I appear to be sinking slightly in to the earth. I don’t go far – a few feet below the surface and I am in a dimly lit, glowing tunnel hewn of rock by unseen hands. Here and there there are enclaves  and small caves in which there are slumbering, half rock coated beings, black fur pushing through rock and silt like a nestling’s plumage.

I walk on, not quite sure why I’m here and discover that I am walking in to a larger cavern. In here there is little light, but I see sleeping, humanish yet furred and fanged faces turn towards ,me with ever watching black eyes looking at me carefully before looking back at the cavern entrance. I walk further in, feeling uneasy yet strangely welcome.

In front of me there are glowing strands of Ivy, green phosphorescence falling off of them like trickling luminous glitter. The Ivy traces the shape of a sleeping Giantess; appearing to be middle aged and lightly freckled with light red sand coloured hair.  Her eyes open to be a deep and smooth brown jasper and her lips crook slightly in to a smile.

She is so immense that I can see but her face and shoulders yet I can see her face as one clear image. She speaks, asking if I would like a healing breath. Given my recent pondering on the aches in my body I say yes… but… also aware that I am in liminal space – not in the lower world…. and that this could be a glamoured Fey I ask what she would like in return (they can be very tricksy!). Her reply – ‘what would you offer?’. ‘Good repute?’  I ask, not knowing what a giantess in a large cavern could possibly want from the like of me.

She smiles and breathes slowly yet powerfully on me – I fragment a little and see my skin crackle, like a giant ember; glowing the same green as the Ivy draped upon her stone smooth skin. Her breath coaxing the fire within me to burn brighter and reach my extremities – my hands become red hot (or should that be green hot?). I see this in the reflection in her huge eyes and feel it in my flesh and spirit.

And then I am aware that it’s time to leave. … I thank this giantess who closes her eyes as though to slumber once more…. but I turn and ask – who are you?

And as her image and that of the cavern around me fades I hear….’Rigatona…. for now…’ and catch a glimpse of a wry smile turning the corner of her mouth.

Back in my body and coming back to physical  awareness I am aware that I need to spread good repute as promised…. so here it is. My hands feel a lot better and, although I am still stiff in body, I feel much less creaky.

Rigatona… who ever she will be next time we meet, is definitely on my Good List … for now 😉